Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs by Timothy Reidy
Despite the week-long weather predictions of rain, rain and more rain, Day One of Albany’s 66th annual Tulip Festival was a perfect Saturday for arts & crafts shopping, food-truck sampling, flower photos and, of course, people watching in Albany’s Washington Park.
Musically, however, things didn’t go quite so smoothly. The Chain Gang of 1974 – originally slated to be the Main Stage opening act – cancelled the week before the fest and then just 24 prior to their scheduled headlining performance MS MR dropped off the bill as well. Replacement bands were booked – Panama Wedding to open and Mike Doughty to close – but this year’s Tulip Fest just didn’t seem to have the buzz surrounding previous feats.
Much of the problem fell on the shoulders of Doughty, though it was certainly not his fault. Trying to headline Tulip Fest armed with just an acoustic guitar and cellist Andrew “Scrap” Livingston, Doughty was most definitely not in an enviable situation. Typically as the day goes on, the crowd tends to get progressively more rowdy and alcohol-soaked, and an acoustic guitar wasn’t likely to capture their attention, even if Doughty was singing about drugs, “Busting Up a Starbucks” and brawling frat boys – topics that would ordinarily elicit plenty of whoops, fist pumps and raised beverages from the crowd.
Instead, the crowd around the main stage dwindled as the beer corral across Washington Park filled up. Heck, Doughty even pulled out a cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” to little reaction.
Doughty’s job was especially difficult considering that he had to follow a pair of high-energy bands – Sleeper Agent and Rubblebucket. Led by hyperactive front-woman Alex Kandel, Sleeper Agent ripped through nuggets like “Eat You Up.” Keyboardist Scott Gardner fired up “Get It, Daddy,” by banging out the rhythm on an automotive brake drum. And by the time they charged through their closer, “Be My Monster,” Kandel was off the stage and out in the crowd leading a sing-along.
Rubblebucket upped the ante even further with a powerhouse horn section bolstered by the charismatic lead vocalist Annakalmia Traver, who occasionally added to the blast on her big baritone sax. They rumbled through their 40-minute set, bringing it to a funkified climax with the back-to-back punch of “Came Out of a Lady” and “Save Charlie,” which found half of the band parading through the crowd like a New Orleans second line.